Crime: Youth worker says restorative justice, not punishment needed to tackle juvenile offending

A youth worker says throwing young people in jail is not the answer to fixing New Zealand's youth crime problem. 

It comes after police arrested three teenagers - aged 14, 15, 16 - on Sunday for aggravated burglaries at the Michael Hill stores in New Plymouth and the Glenfield Mall in Auckland. The three teens are also suspected of robbing a Western Springs service station. 

New Zealand has also been hit by a series of public brawls in cities over the last two weeks. One saw members of the Mongrel Mob attacking rival gang members in broad daylight in Palmerston North, and another attack saw about six adults viciously beat another person lying motionless on the ground, in broad daylight, outside Auckland's Downtown Ferry Terminal. 

ACT leader David Seymour told AM on Monday he's "furious" and blames the increase in violence on our streets on the decrease in the prison population. 

But just how to deal with youth criminals has raised much debate around New Zealand, with National and ACT wanting to put them in prison and put ankle bracelets on them. Labour, meanwhile, wants to take a restorative justice approach to try to rehabilitate the offenders.

Mā Te Huruhuru founder Māhera Maihi told AM on Tuesday punitive measures are not the way to fix crime in New Zealand.

"What we've noticed is if we can remove young people out of their home environments with their blessing and their whānau's blessing and move them into a papakāinga, we've got some time there to really get into the healing and ... reconnect them and get them back to their identity," she told AM co-host Ryan Bridge.

Mā Te Huruhuru is a program focused on helping youth escape from cycles of family violence, gangs and poverty. 

Mā Te Huruhuru runs education, employment, suicide prevention and COVID-19 community outreach programmes for people aged 16-30 years old. 

Maihi said her program focuses on building trusting relationships as many criminals come from generations of "harm and cyclical damage".

"No one wants to wake up in the morning and say, 'I'm going to go to jail today'. What they really want is just someone to love them and care for them and this punitive approach is not the solution. 

"It's not the way. What we really need to do is focus on, in my experience, cultural responsiveness."

Māhera Maihi.
Māhera Maihi. Photo credit: AM

Retailers are on the receiving end of damage done by thieves and want the Government to do more and use punitive measures.

When asked about this, Maihi is adamant rehabilitating offenders and "stripping people back" of their traumas is the key to helping them change.

"Those punitive responses or punishment, consequences, it just generates more hate. Hate generates hate and we've got to change the way we do things," she said. 

"We've got to be more cutting edge. We've got to be more innovative. We've got to be bold and courageous and give it back to the people, the indigenous people of New Zealand because we do have the answers for our people."

Kick for the Seagulls programme founder Sir Graham Lowe is taking a different approach and using sport to change people. 

He told AM sports delivers a set of values, expectations and discipline that few other programs can teach.

Sir Graham said most people that come to his program haven't had any love or care and lack education. 

But once they're in the programme, they're treated like they would at any sports club around New Zealand. 

"If there are any issues out in the yard or they've got any other problems, they get kicked off it," he said. 

"They're treated exactly the same as if you were in the local rugby club or league club or netball team, there's an expectation, there's a respect that's required and there's no second chances. It's black and white, you either do what you're told or you're out."

Sir Graham Lowe.
Sir Graham Lowe. Photo credit: AM

But any fixes to youth crime and crime, in general, haven't come soon enough for one person who has had enough of being targeted by thieves.

Crime has gotten so bad west Auckland post shop owner Aboli Bhave has decided to close her Titirangi store after 20 years. It comes after she was burgled more than six times in the past five years. 

Aboli told AM on Tuesday she has been struggling to sleep at night after her shop was burgled six times since 2018, but a 3am ram raid this April was the "final straw". 

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said the ram raids and aggravated robberies hitting retailers are "utterly unacceptable" and admits the Government still has work to do. 

"I think it's absolutely heartbreaking and it is totally unacceptable. I absolutely acknowledge the situation we're facing around retail crime, at the moment; with ram raids and aggravated robberies is utterly unacceptable," the Prime Minister told AM on Tuesday. 

"I think the New Zealand Police have been doing a good job in making sure that they're following up and that they're investigating these and that they're arresting people and holding them accountable. There are still far too many of them happening, though. 

"I think that is something that the Government takes very seriously. We've clearly got a lot more work to do in this space." 

Watch the full interview with Māhera Maihi and Sir Graham Lowe in the video above.